Matilde Cassani

For the first issue of 2023, we host Matilde Cassani, one of the most interesting and experimental artists of her generation, who works between temporary installations, art and architecture, collected in various interventions between Italy, Europe and New York.
Matilde has a transversal curriculum, with teaching experience at the Milan Polytechnic, at AA in London and was recently a fellow at Columbia Italian Academy in New York. She does a series of research that I find very interesting, because it investigates a world in profound transformation through an artistic practice that directly involves communities, spaces and places in unexpected ways, also working on the discovery of contexts that we apparently do not look at.

Luca Molinari
Try to tell us about yourself and trace your personal research path through some key words that you consider important to represent your work.
Matilde Cassani
While I was studying, I realised that architecture was among my greatest interests, but the starting point was not space but man. The movements of the individual generate architecture. Different communities, super-diverse one would say today, constantly interpret and design the city. Many of the studio’s works have man as their starting point, in relation to the city. They are not necessarily permanent architecture, they are often ephemeral architectures or photographs of a moment of urban life, which tell of the city’s deepest transformations. The research starts from the individual, moving on to the community and then to wider spaces, to territories. It starts from the micro and arrives at the macro, we could call it ‘transcalar’, quoting Andres Jaque.

L.M. I think it is interesting that you work on the project dimension with a strong narrative tension. You generate a project that produces public consequences and relates very different figures. Transcalarity is also communal and today perhaps one of the big issues is to break the isolation in which we are as individuals and generate narratives that create common epics. It is also about working on certain words that help us refound this collective dimension. For you, what does it mean to work on a common narrative, to produce content that helps to re-read the world around us?
M.C. Observing the movements of people in a park, in a square, suggests the needs of the city of the future. A project idea takes into account this aspect of anticipation that the city has in itself, the work suggests possible futures, which in reality are interpretations, projections 5, 30, 100 years from now.

L.M. When you glimpse these hypotheses of the future in a present, it becomes a choice. It is a political theme, isn’t it?
M.C. In the Baroque era, the idea of wonder, of celebration, was used to anticipate changes, political, economic and social. This can be applied to all historical moments, including our own. Events tell all kinds of stories, including political ones.

L.M. A short while ago, I saw a great exhibition on the meaning and role of celebration at the Mak in Vienna, curated by Lilli Hollein. The party is investigated as a temporal, symbolic-political mechanism, as a laboratory, as an exercise of profession and as a relationship with time.
In some of your installations, such as the one for Manifesta in Palermo, the theme of the festival becomes a common expedient to make anyone understand what is happening in an immediate way, but it generates something surprising and wonderful, a theme that slows you down and makes you reflect. Tell us how the concept of feast and celebration enters into your work and becomes a project in itself, a narrative, rhetorical, social expedient that becomes a common, simple and immediate feature that allows you to enter into something unexpected with simplicity.
M.C. There is always the relationship with the audience, there is the need for an audience. A mass occasion, it creates an architecture. Think of the recent World Cup celebrations in Argentina, the celebrating crowd filled vast areas, becoming built space. The party creates a homogenous space. The crowd thinks in the same way, shares a state of mind, even though the individual has different goals; the message, in the group, is diffused and easily interpreted. It is a moment of alliance, temporary, but solid. This is what ‘Tutto’ at Manifesta 12 in Palermo, curated by Bregtje Van der Haak, Mirjam Varidinis, Andres Jaque and Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, is all about.
Everything is a Baroque-inspired celebration because it uses the objects, instruments and places of the Sicilian Baroque. The Piazza dei Quattro Canti in Palermo brought together Manifesta visitors, passers-by and tourists. The event united audiences and recounted different moments in the city’s history. The foreign dominations of Palermo, its saints and new populations.

L.M. There is another word you use a lot, and that is ritual. Rituality is linked to celebration, it is an ancient term that seemed to have almost vanished in the West, when they became secular rituals, much more fragile, which with the end of the great ideologies were completely dispersed. Rituality in the end is also something much deeper, beyond the definition linked to a specific religion or cultural state, it is something that we seek, that unites and binds us. What does it mean in this new century to return to work on rituality? What is the meaning of this term, and how can it be re-actualised in terms of design and the regeneration of spaces?
M.C. Rituality is a human necessity. It is comforting to repeat actions daily or several times during the day. It has always belonged to man in relation to the group and is what generates urbanity.

L.M. Is that why you have worked so much on the theme of the sacred and the city?
M.C. Yes, the theme of the sacred and the city is the most striking example today. The need for a foreign community to gather in prayer in a host context generates spaces that are also very spontaneous, that grow over time, becoming more connoted, evident, symbolic. The rituality of prayer is the simplest example to explain how human movements generate space. As cities in Europe went from monocultural to supercultural, it became clear how urban space was designed to be monocultural and was challenged by different identities that shared it.

L.M. The theme of the sacred for you began many years ago, when you did a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude, then you took it to New York in the Storefront exhibition, and it has accompanied you over the years. How has your perception of the sacred changed over time in relation to the city compared to where you started?
M.C. In 2005 I worked in Sri Lanka, where four religions coexist and have different spatial needs, which can be clearly seen in the neighbourhoods of the city. When I returned to Europe I tried to understand how urban space was diversifying, this process is happening now, elsewhere it is secular. I then studied foreign religious festivals in Italy, especially in the Emilian countryside, where Sikhs populate the countryside and participate in the production of Parmigiano Reggiano.
This year I worked on a street in Queens, New York where many places of worship have been built in recent years: Mosques, Orthodox Churches, Sikh Gurdwaras, Hindu Temples, one next to the other.
It has recently been renamed Ganesh Temple Street: this is because the Hindu temple, over time, has expanded to offer not only spaces for prayer, but also community services: schools, residences for the elderly, an auditorium. It is a place of worship that started out as informal (the first temple was the founder’s living room) and has formalised over time. In places where a culture is not so widespread, it is the container for many other services, related to immigration, food and all social activities. From a nucleus in the 1990s, the temple is now the name of a Street.
I am currently working on a publication about how the festive moment anticipates changes in the city. By city I also mean less dense territories, such as the Vercelli countryside. Here there is more need for man in the production of rice, which has become mechanised and only partially takes place in Italy. Hardly anyone lives there – hence the name of the project, curated by Paola Nicolin and produced by Aptitude. The disappearance of man does not mean, however, that there are no rituals. Among the last remaining people, people get together to talk about seasonality, harvests and climate changes that influence cultivation techniques.

L.M. You use time as a design material, it is one of the central elements of your work and one of the most precious materials in our lives, we are always running out of time. You somehow generate situations in which you tear time away from common practice and generate almost stumbling blocks, moments in which you force those involved to do unexpected things. What does working on time in the project mean to you? What value does time have in a project dimension such as yours?
M.C. Time is a fundamental part of the work. Thinking about the Vercelli project, time is seasonality. The project consists of a series of mirages of men, scarecrows, positioned at different points in the countryside. A series of photographs will show the changes in the landscape related to sowing, harvesting, flooding of the fields and the seasons. Time will be a necessary part of the project. In this, as in other works, the opening day is the beginning of a long-lasting process.

L.M. You use fabric almost obsessively in your works. It is a soft, apparently fragile material that constantly changes with time, light and air. Perhaps it is a choice linked to a sense of impermanence, fragility of the temporary project, and it is also a way of making it evident. Try to explain to us, with some examples, why you have often used this material to shape projects for public spaces, which have a theme of temporality but also of resistance, of dialogue with those around and those who use them.
M.C. Fabric undergoes changes, not only in decay but also in movement, being a ‘soft’ project. The definition of a soft project could be applied to many projects. Certainly to Tutto, where velvet drapes embroidered with figures of saints were hung on the facades of buildings; but also Panorama, abstract landscapes, continuously modified by the actions of men moving within the space in which they were hung. Tripolina Curtain is part of Birdflight in Museion, Bolzano, curated by Bart van der Heide, Andreas Hapkemeyer and Brita Köhler. This display consists of a series of thresholds between rooms: coloured canopies, carpets, darkness and light, mirrors that register people’s passage even from a distance and curtains that remain in motion long after someone has passed through.

L.M. I also remember the banners you made in Aarhus or Prato, where you transformed an almost medieval symbolism into something contemporary that straddled tradition and present-day presence.
M.C. For the Oslo Triennale 2016, curated by Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Ignacio G. Galán, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Alejandra Navarrete Llopis and Marina Otero Verzier, an attempt was made to include the changes in the heraldry of the city of Prato within the heraldry of its population.
Prato is home to one of the largest Chinatowns in Italy. The idea of including symbols belonging to other cultures in the Gonfalone is a way of recording the changes that will take place. It is not known when it will be updated, when they will change the name of a street or when a new one will be named, it depends on political decisions. ‘Flags for future neighbourhoods’ in Aarhus were a series of flags dedicated to the future neighbourhoods of the city. Its harbour changed from a port area to residential, the city grew by 5,000 inhabitants a year. The flags stopped a snapshot; they identified moments to be remembered in the future, as in our cities the streets are named after the trades that characterised them in the past.

L.M. The issue you are on the cover of thinks about the word revelation as the unveiling of something in front of us and your projects work a lot on this theme. How can you define this term and do you think it is important to work on this word?
M.C. Unveiling means choosing what to look at. It means selecting an element and focusing on the relationship it has with the context. Looking at a place from several points of view is the main part of the project.

Text by Luca Molinari

Captions and Photo credit (from top to bottom)

– Portrait of Matilde Cassani – Photo © Guido Stazzoni
– Matilde Cassani, Leonardo Gatti – Photo © Norman Rinaldi
– A celebration day – Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani
– Bird Flight. Erika Giovanna Klien in dialogue with contemporary artistic positions. Curated by: Bart van der Heide. Andreas Hapkemeyer, Brita Kohler – Exhibition Design: Matilde Cassani Studio Exhibition views: Museion Bozen/Bolzano, 09.04. – 17.09.2022 – Photo Luca Guadagnini © Museion
– Your restroom is a battleground, 2021 – Matilde Cassani, Ignacio C. Galàn, Ivàn L. Munuera, Joel Sanders – Corderie dell’Arsenale, 17. Biennale arch9tettura, Venice – Photo © Imagen Subliminal
– Flags for future neighborhoods, Aarhus Festive btosy LIST – Photo © Martin Dam Christensen
– Bird Flight. Erika Giovanna Klien in dialogue with contemporary artistic positions. Curated by: Bart van der Heide. Andreas Hapkemeyer, Brita Kohler – Exhibition Design: Matilde Cassani Studio Exhibition views: Museion Bozen/Bolzano, 09.04. – 17.09.2022 – Photo Daniel Walcher © Museion
– Spiritual devices – Photo © Ivan Sarfatti
– Tutto, Manifesta 12 Palermo, Piazza dei quattro canti – Curated by Bregtje Van der Haak, Mijam Varidinis, Andres Jaque, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli – Photo © Studio DSL

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